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Scott Behson, PhD, is a professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the author of “The Working Dad’s Survival Guide.” Behson also founded and runs the blog Fathers, Work, and Family. Parent Co. spoke to Professor Behson about how working dads can establish a more balanced life, and how employers can help make it happen.


Parent Co: As an expert on the topic, can you give me a sense of the currently held general expectation for working dads in our country?

Scott Behson: There has been a lot of change for dads in a relatively short period of time. Dads today work as many hours as previous generations, but do three times the childcare and twice the housework as dads a generation ago.

Dads are still expected to be primary providers in most families, but have really expanded what they do in terms of everything else that’s needed to be done to run a household. This is largely due to the fact that so many families are now dual-earner couples, which means both the mom and dad work outside the home, and spend more evenly than ever before sharing the rest of the work that goes into running a household.

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Things aren’t exactly even yet, but things are getting closer and closer. It’s a challenging time for dads because if you think about it, most of our role models did it differently and faced different expectations. To a large degree, this is why I wrote “The Working Dad’s Survival Guide” in order to help dads face these changing circumstances, and provide advice and encouragement, so they can do a good job in both of their incredibly important roles.

When you say that the amount of household work done by dads has increased dramatically over the generation before, would you say that it’s increased from nearly zero to what it is now, or is that not a fair statement?

I don’t think that’s exactly a fair statement. I think dads, for most of history, have cared about providing for their families and being there for their families. I would say it’s true that dads today are changing more diapers and doing more grocery shopping, but I wouldn’t say dads of previous generations didn’t do very, very important things and play important roles in the family besides earn money for them.

I don’t want to slag on my dad’s generation of dads. To use my dad as an example, my father, wonderful father, I hope I’m half the dad he is, but there are a lot of things I do in my daily life that were never expected of him.

I did half the bottles and half the diapers, and I go grocery shopping, and I cook, and I clean the house, and I do half the pick-ups. That’s just normal, and in fact, virtually every dad I know, my peer group, is in the same situation. It’s interesting that society doesn’t seem to acknowledge this very much. Society talks about deadbeat dads, or bumbling dad humor, or they over correct and are calling people “super dads” or we focus on stay-at-home dads. The fact is, there are millions of dads out there, and virtually every dad I know cares a lot about his career, and earning for the family, and being a really good hands-on, involved father.

What do you think it is that caused this relatively large change in such a short time?

It’s a bit of an echo of what working women faced in the past generation or so. If you think about what working moms have faced, they greatly expanded themselves into the workspace, but in many cases, were still very much expected to uphold what they were doing at home. That led to the second shifts and all these really difficult stressors on working women.

I think this is now men facing the fun house mirror version of what working women have faced, where men are greatly expanding what they do in the home and for their families, but in many cases are still expected by employers and by society to maintain everything they’re doing at work as well.

Of course, yeah.

Workplaces are not forgiving for any employee who puts family above working more than full-time hours, but there’s a lot of research that shows that it’s even more of a challenge for men to visibly be seen as accommodating their work lives for their family responsibilities.

As someone who teaches in the school of management, having your head in that world as well as a mind and eye towards a work-life balance, what do you see as the main sources of resistance to supporting this change in the workplace?

To some degree, I’m seeing things from both sides. I’m a business school professor, I work with companies, I work with dads on this specific issue, but I’m also a busy working dad myself trying to juggle it all, and I interviewed dozens of dads for the book. What I’m trying to contribute is being able to see both sides, I feel like I can give some really good, real-life advice that dads can use tomorrow to help them in their work-family juggles, but also be very realistic in terms of what’s possible in the workplace and what people need to be aware of.

Again, things have changed very rapidly, and I think a lot of companies, it’s finally on the radar that work and family issues aren’t just working mom issues. Many companies have become aware of this. They are worried that they are not able to recruit and hold onto really good employees, both men and women, because of some of the workplace demands and the inability to have a life outside of work, so it’s on their radars.

I don’t think too many companies have quite figured out what to do with it yet, but this was not on the radar of most companies ten years ago, so this is significant progress in a relatively short period of time.

I’ve been booked at several major corporations to lead workshops and seminars based on some of the content of the book, which shows that companies are really eager for information on this topic because they are trying to figure out what to do with it, if that makes sense.

Some companies have been very progressive on this. In fact, there’s only about fourteen percent of private employers offering things like paternity leave, but that number is going to increase pretty rapidly, I think. More importantly than set policy is starting to understand that technology, and the way work is, means that so many more people can get a lot of their work done outside of the workplace and outside of normal business hours.

I think when companies feel a little better about giving employees freedom about how and where and when they get their work done, that  will help both working men and women immeasurably. Companies are not good at evaluating performance, so a boss who doesn’t really know what his people are doing, he tends to evaluate performance based on how long somebody stays at work, or chair time, or face time, which is silly because it’s easily gamed, right?

Oh, yeah.

The productive employees work hard and go home, and the opportunists work slow and stay late until we combat that. There’s been some companies who’ve done incredible work in this area creating flexible workplaces that still are very productive and, in fact, are more profitable than ever now that they have given up some of that control over where and when.

When you’re booked by these employers, do you go to them with these examples as a way to show them how it’s being done right and the positive effects of that?

Yes, absolutely. Getting specifically to the book, there’s a chapter where I advise the reader to think through their ongoing career planning in light of the rest of their lives. One of the things I really wanted to accomplish in this book is that there are a lot of great parenting books out there, but none of them talk about work at all, which is really funny to me.

There are a lot of great career and business self-help books out there, but they hardly ever talk about the rest of your life outside of work. One of the things I really wanted to do in “The Working Dad’s Survival Guide” is to talk about these two important roles together, because they influence each other so much.

Anyway, that’s a long way of saying in one chapter of the book I advise people to think about their careers in light of the rest of their lives, because so many of us chose our careers either in college when we’re in our twenties, before we are married with kids, and what might have been a great early career track that suited our lives might not suit our lives ten, fifteen years later.

So many people stay on the track instead of reconsidering what they’re doing. In this chapter I highlight a handful of employers, not to be comprehensive but to be representative of different types of companies, and I give examples of these companies that have done really, really good work in terms of being forward on supporting employees and their work-life challenges. This includes big professional multinational firms, it includes companies that mostly have hourly employees. I try to be very representative.

I think that’s such a good point that you just brought up and I’ve actually never thought about it like that, because I guess from my own perspective, I’ve always known I wanted to write. And that’s such a broad notion, so when I started having a family, I made it work, or I’m still trying to make it work. I’ve never thought about stepping back and reevaluating a career choice to try to find something that’s perhaps a bit more family-friendly.

Luckily there are many different ways to have a good career in writing. There might not be that many ways to have a great career as a law partner or as a corporate executive. People who are on those types of tracks who are traveling out to clients four or five days a week, and are only home and weekends, and they’re road warriors and stuff, those are jobs that are very difficult to make it work.

If that’s what you want, and you’ve arranged your family life, and your spouse is on board with it, and your kids are getting what they need, that’s fine. It’s just, I’d rather people make conscious choices about what they’re doing. In fact, the first section (of the book) is all about thinking through your priorities. What you want out of life. What do you want out of your career? What do you want out of your family life, and what do you want out of your one shot at your kids’ childhoods?

I think it’s easy to feel so busy, because if you care about your career, you’re probably working more than full-time hours. Then, what’s left of your time, you’re probably trying to spend as much of it with your family as possible. I get it. But sometimes we have to almost get off the hamster wheel instead of running on the hamster wheel at full speed all the time, and then sit down in the cedar chips and to spend a little bit of time thinking about the big picture. I think if we figure out what you want in the big picture, then it might not be easy, it might not be quick, but I think we could start making decisions that are more aligned with what we want out of life. Then, in six months, two years, maybe we can find our way to a situation that’s far better for our set of priorities.

In talking to a lot of different dads, did anyone tell you that it’s really hard to be honest with yourself about what you want given the various societal pressures and cultural norms and everything? How do you advise people in that respect?

I recall a situation where I was talking to one of the dads I interviewed in the book and I asked him about this. I said, “What are things that are working well for you in terms of work life balance? What are things that aren’t? What’s getting in the way?” He’s quoted in the book. All the quotes are real, they’re anonomized, and there is no identifying information because some people talked about things they struggled with. One was like, “Man, I always promised myself once we had our kid that I would start getting off the road, and now my son is ten and I haven’t done it, and I don’t see how I can.” He feels the pressure to provide, but he also loves his job, and also I think he feels like since he’s been … It’s set up like a vicious cycle where he hasn’t been around, so then it’s harder for him to feel in sync when he is around. I felt like he can’t find a way to get himself there.

Again, I was interviewing him, I wasn’t trying to give too much advice, but I was like, “Listen, when this book comes out, go through these first couple of chapters and think through this. Maybe it won’t be easy to get off the road or change the career, but maybe in two years, or eight months, or however long it takes, maybe you can get closer to where you want to be.” Luckily life is long, and parenthood is long, careers are long, and we forget this sometimes. We’re going to be working for forty-five years. It’s okay to let an opportunity go by, or it’s okay to temporarily put something on hold.

I think a lot of people don’t like the word balance when it comes to work and family, and I think that’s because they have the wrong idea of balance. When you think of work-life balance, most people think about a tight rope or a balance beam or something where if you are not perfectly balanced, it’s a fall.

Everything falls apart, yeah.

Right, but I think we should look at it more like a balanced diet. I talk about this in the book where it’s okay to be temporarily out of balance. If you are an accountant, March and April are going to be crazy with work. If you have a sick family member, it’s going to be two weeks of all dealing with family and work goes by the wayside. That’s okay, as long as we have a long-term balance.

It takes a lot of different food groups to have a good diet, it takes work, and family, and time for yourself, and time as a couple, and time for exercise, and your own social needs, and religion, and whatever else is important in your life. It’s not just work and family, it should be almost like a balanced life in a broader sense, because we’re no good for other people if we’re burned out.

I think it’s what you’re saying about living a conscious life.

Yeah, I don’t know if I use those words in the book, but that’s beautifully said. Especially that first part, thinking about the priorities. Then, section two of the book is about the workplace, how do we navigate it, what are the things to watch out for, what are our options, how might we be able to work more flexibly or negotiate for things that we need and advocate for ourselves. Then at home, how do we make sure we have enough time for family and that we use this time really well. Then I have a section about taking care of yourself in what I was talking about there.

What do you see as the role of the partner in all of this?

Again, when we are talking about the priorities part of the book, step one is to think through your priorities. Step two is to talk about it with your spouse or the other important people in your life, because you might be a very career-oriented person and that’s great. If your spouse is on board with that and understands that you’re going to be away and then she, let me just use that pronoun for now, is going to pick it up at home, and everybody gets what they need in the family, and everybody is happy with their roles, then great.

You can have a very traditional arrangement, or you can have a very free-flowing, egalitarian relationship, that’s great, as long as it’s whatever everybody needs. One of the things I’ve observed is that a lot of times, if families don’t talk about it, it defaults to very gendered roles in the family where the dad is actually working more than he would want to, in part because the mom is working less than she would like to or perhaps leaves the workforce entirely, and neither of them are really happy with that arrangement. It’s frustrating to be home and be a full-time parent if that’s not really what suits you.

Sure, and nobody’s winning when that’s the case.

Exactly.

The kids certainly aren’t.

Yeah, but I see people suffer through that thinking it’s the only way instead of, again, examining and figuring out, “Well, I might be stuck in this role for the next nine months, but what can I do so that a year from now we can have a different arrangement?”

…Sometimes we internalize this; that we have to soldier on instead of taking a step back and seeking help, or talking about things that we need. It’s better if we recognize this is an issue. Again, one of the reasons I wrote this specifically for working dads – as a fellow working dad – is that guys are not particularly good at asking for directions. Especially when it comes to work and family, I think a lot of guys might not be comfortable talking about this or complaining about their situation, because they see that their wives are struggling with this too, and what right do we have to complain about it?

Even though ninety percent of the book would apply to working moms as well, the way the book is written was very intentional so that it’s much more accessible for guys. That’s another thing I’m trying to add to the conversation is that dads, we need to advocate for ourselves because so much depends on us. Families with involved fathers, the research is unbelievably clear that kids thrive, that their spouses thrive, that dads are happier and live longer if they’re more involved with their kids. It has so many positive ripple effects if dads are supported in the two most important roles in their lives, their role in the family and their role in their career.

Follow @scottbehson on Twitter and visit his website Fathersworkandfamily.com. Order his best-selling book, The Working Dad’s Survival Guide.

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I honestly can't remember how I used to organize and share baby photos before I started using FamilyAlbum. (What am I saying? I could never keep all those pictures organized!) Like most mamas, I often found myself with a smartphone full of photos and videos I didn't know what to do with. My husband and I live states away from our respective families, and we worried about the safety of posting our children's photos on other platforms.

Then we found FamilyAlbum.

FamilyAlbum is the only family-first photo sharing app that safely files photos and videos by date taken in easy-to-navigate digital albums. From documenting a pregnancy to capturing the magical moments of childhood, the app makes sharing memories with your family simple and safe. And it provides free, unlimited storage—meaning you can snap and snap and snap to your heart's delight without ever being forced to choose which close-up of your newborn's tiny little nose you want to keep.

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And, truly, the app is a much-needed solution for mamas with out-of-state family. Parents can share all their favorite memories with friends and relatives safely within the app without worrying about spamming acquaintances with every adorable baby yawn the way you might on a social network or a long text thread. (Did I mention I have a thing for baby yawn videos? I regret nothing 😍) It's safe because your album is only visible to the people you share it with. The app will even notify album members when new photos have been posted so they can comment on their favorite moments and we can preserve their reactions forever. It's also easy for my husband and I to share our photos and videos. All of our memories are organized in one place, and we never have to miss out on seeing each other's best shots.

And because #mombrain is real, I especially appreciate how much work FamilyAlbum takes off my plate. From automatically organizing photos and videos by month and labeling them by age (so I can skip doing the math in my head to figure out if my daughter was five or six months when she started sitting up) to remembering what I upload and preventing me from uploading the same photo four times, the app makes it easy to keep all my memories tidy—even when life feels anything but.

FamilyAlbum will quickly become your family's solution for sharing moments, like when you're sending a video to the grandma across the country. Grandparents need only tap open the app to get a peek into what is going on with our girls every day. When my sister sends her nieces a present, the app has become where I can share photos and video of the girls opening their gifts so she never feels like she's missing a thing. The app will even automatically create paper photo books of your favorite shots that you can purchase every month so you can hold on to the memories forever (or to share with the great-grandma who has trouble with her smartphone 😉). Plus, you can update the books with favorite photos or create your own from scratch. No matter what, the app keeps your photos and videos safe, even if your phone is lost or damaged.

But what I love most about FamilyAlbum is that it's family-first. Unlike other photo sharing platforms, it was designed with mamas (and their relatives!) in mind, creating a safe, simple space to share our favorite moments with our favorite people. And that not only helps us keep in touch—it helps us all feel a little bit closer.

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This year marks FamilyAlbum's 4th anniversary! Click here to celebrate and learn more about their "Share your #FamilyAlbumTime" special promotion running until March 31, 2019.

For some celebrities, pregnancy is a time to retreat from the public eye and be more strategic about what they share online. They guard their personal lives a little closer, and their social media presence gets a little more curated.

But when Amy Schumer announced her pregnancy in October, she didn't stop sharing. We saw—and heard, in some of her more graphic Insta stories—just how hard this pregnancy and the resulting hyperemesis (an extreme form of morning sickness) have been on Schumer.

Schumer's humor has always been real, and her new Netflix special, Growing, is one of the realest descriptions of pregnancy I've ever seen on my TV.

As a mom who didn't glow as much as I groaned through my pregnancy, I laughed so hard I cried. And as a mom of a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I cried tears of relief.

In one hour Amy Schumer simultaneously made me feel seen and helped me see a happy future for my son, and I can't thank her enough.

[Warning, light spoilers ahead]

Amy Schumer: Growing | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix www.youtube.com


The Netflix description for this special describes it as "both raunchy and sincere" and that's totally accurate. If you've seen Schumer's previous Netflix special, you know you can't watch this until the kids are in bed.

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In Growing Schumer proves that pregnancy didn't make her a different person or take the curse words out of her vocabulary. She is who she is, she just happens to be becoming a mom, too.

And becoming a mom has not been easy. Schumer's description of yeast infections, and vomiting and hemorrhoids and all the parts of pregnancy that nobody puts on a felt letter board gave me flashbacks and validation.

In Growing, Schumer is saying that it's okay not to love being pregnant and that it doesn't mean you don't love that baby growing inside you. It's a message more women need to hear because it's hard to see photo after photo of smiling mamas sporting cute bumps and wonder if you're the only woman who doesn't love feeling someone sit on your bladder.

That feeling (the emotional one, not the bladder one) made me feel alone in my pregnancy, but it's been three years since I wondered if there was something wrong with me. These days, I'm more worried about whether my son, who is now a preschooler, will grow up to think there's something wrong with him.

As the mother of a kid on the spectrum, I gasped when Schumer explained that her husband, Chris Fischer, is too. I sobbed when she described some of her husband's quirks, because I see them everyday in my son.

I don't want to spoil the special too much, but let me tell you this: In revealing that her husband, the father of her future child, is on the spectrum, Schumer gave me so much hope.

I'm so grateful that Schumer (and Fischer, who must be on board with this) shared that bit of info because sitting there in front of my TV all the versions of my son's future that got erased when we got our ASD diagnosis came flooding back.

I could see him as a grown man, and he wasn't alone. He was falling in love with a partner like Schumer. He was becoming a father like Fischer. He was happy (and different, in the way Schumer describes her husband) but he wasn't alone.

Schumer's trademark raunch isn't for everybody, but her authenticity and vulnerability sure is for me. For 60 minutes I watched a woman stand alone on a stage and I felt less alone.

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Over the years, switching to nontoxic products has become a popular trend. But, as moms ourselves, we understand how overwhelming it can be to consider a lifestyle change. We founded Branch Basics with the idea that simple swaps in your cleaning closet could be the jumpstart to living chemical-free.

For many people, the swap has been influenced by various headlines. One study compared cleaning your home with conventional products to smoking an entire pack of cigarettes every day. Additionally, the EPA has reported that indoor air quality is actually worse than outdoor air quality.

With every reason to make the swap, here is a beginner's guide to non-toxic home cleaning. We call this process our Clean Sweep with just three simple steps.

1. Review

Pull out all of the cleaners (and pesticides) you currently have in your home. Yes, even the dusty ones deep in the back of the cabinet! Once you have these out, review them for red flag words, like "caution, warning or danger."

Cleaning companies are not required by law to list their ingredients, so any cleaners that are not transparent about their ingredients should be taken out of your home. Remove anything with parfum or fragrance, as the word fragrance represents a fragrance recipe that may have never been tested for safety. (Pro tip: You can use essential oils to make scents you like.)

Other common ingredients to avoid are:

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  • Perchloroethylene or "PERC"
  • Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or "QUATS"
  • 2-Butoxyethanol
  • EPA registered pesticides like Chlorine
  • Methylisothiazolinone "MIT"
  • Benzisothiazolinone "BIT"
  • Any of the Isothiazolinone family
  • Ethoxylated Alcohols

Finally, toss your dryer sheets and fabric softeners if they're loaded with carcinogens such as dichlorobenzene and benzyl acetate, respiratory irritants such as chloroform and benzyl alcohol, neurotoxins like linalool and ethanol, and endocrine disruptors such as phenoxyethanol and phthalates.

For any ingredient you are unsure of or don't recognize, the internet has great resources like the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning, where you can look up health ratings from 1-10 (1 being the safest to 10 being the most toxic).

Another excellent tool is the Think Dirty® app, an easy way to evaluate ingredients in your beauty, personal care and household products. Just scan the product barcode and it will give you easy-to-understand info on the product and its ingredients. We recommend that household products have ingredients rated A on EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning or a zero on Think Dirty.

2. Remove

If you find products that have toxic chemicals in them, remove them from your home. If you aren't ready to part with some of your products, put them in an airtight Sterilite container in your garage or backyard. This simple act of removal will improve your air quality immediately.

3. Replace

Now it's time to streamline. Do some research and find items that are plant-based or otherwise naturally-based. Branch Basics offers a variety of nontoxic alternatives to popular household products, like laundry detergent and bathroom cleaner. The Honest Company created safe baby and beauty products. And Beautycounter provides safer skin care and cosmetics. You can even scour the internet for resources for homemade alternatives, too. If it feels overwhelming, start with your most-used products and work your way down the list.

Switching to nontoxic cleaning supplies is one of the easiest ways to start creating a healthier home and there's so much information out there that can walk you through what should and shouldn't be in your products. Simple swaps can make a big difference for your family.

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You know that you want to raise your children differently than how you were raised—with compassion and connection, instead of punishment and reward. Except the only thing is, friends and extended family just don't seem to get your parenting choices.

You can feel their spoken and unspoken judgments, and it's really putting you on edge, but you don't want to have uncomfortable conversations or tension. So what do you do, mama?

Here are 10 positive phrases you can say to family and friends who just don't seem to get your parenting.

1. "I appreciate how much you care about our kids, but I'm really happy with how we're doing it."

This response finds the common ground. Both of you care deeply about your children, and that's the main thing to acknowledge. It sets a limit and lets the other person know you are not looking for help and advice, but appreciate their intention.

2. "I've thought and read a lot about parenting and I'm really happy with what I've learned."

Parenting nowadays can look pretty different from how it was in previous generations, and there are so many resources giving contradictory advice. A friend or relative may make the mistaken assumption that you are doing it all wrong simply because it's not how they did it, or are doing it. This response lets them know you have made a thoughtful choice.

Gently pointing out that you have read and thought about their parenting style may surprise them. Perhaps your confident response may even make them curious about what you have read, and why you decided it's the right way for you to parent.

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3. "We've tried different methods, and this is what works best for us."

Let your friend or relative know that you aren't looking for advice, you've tried different styles of parenting and are content with what you're doing.

4. "We find that they're more responsive when we set limits gently."

If you are taking the more peaceful route, then you'll find that it's pretty common for parents to mistake gentle parenting with permissive parenting. Pointing out that you are setting limits, even if they look a little different, can be reassuring to a relative who thinks you are not in control.

5. "I've noticed that if we listen to the crying rather than distracting or ignoring them, then they let out their feelings and are less likely to be upset later."

A lot of people have a huge misunderstanding about crying. They think of it as a negative that needs to be stopped instead of as a healthy and healing way to express emotions. This is a simple way to tell them that there is a purpose in allowing feelings, and it's actually better in the long run for your family.

6. "Every family is different, but this is what works best for us."

Parenting differences can often bring up strong feelings between friends because one person may assume you are judging them and think that what they're doing is wrong. Acknowledging that every family is different is a peacemaker. It shows that choosing a different path doesn't mean you are judging or critical of others, and you get that everyone makes different choices.

7. "Kids are so different. This is how my child responds best."

Everyone is the best expert on their family and what their children need. Nobody on the outside looking in can tell you how to parent. This phrase lets the other person know that what you are doing is based on what your understanding of what your child needs and ensures they won't need an explanation.

8. "Don't worry, I can handle this!"

If a friend or family member wants to step in and parent for you, this is a polite way of saying "no thanks."' A lot of people aren't comfortable around big emotions so perhaps they see your child crying and want to give them a lollipop to cheer them up.

This phrase gently lets them know they don't need to fix or solve the situation. It can be reassuring to them that despite the wild emotions of your child (or their challenging behavior), that you are feeling calm and under control.

9. "Thanks for your advice. I'll give it some thought."

This is a conversation closer. It lets the person know they've been heard and you aren't just dismissing what they say. But it also ends the debate, so it's perfect to use with someone you know will never understand what you're doing.

10. "I guess this must look a little different to how you were parented?"

This might not always be appropriate, but if the timing seems right it can open up a discussion about the roots of why the other person might feel the way they do about parenting. Sharing stories about how you were parented can help both come to an understanding that everyone chooses their own parenting path based on their own complex histories, and personal choices.

It also gives the other person a chance to express how they feel about their own childhood, which can help them feel heard, and more relaxed and flexible in their attitude to how you are parenting.

Plus one more that isn't a phrase: Just listen.

Sometimes, no response is needed. Often when people give advice or have strong feelings towards other people's parenting, it's because they feel a sense of responsibility. Perhaps your children's big emotions triggered memories from their childhood, and how they would have been treated if they acted out or expressed themselves.

In those moments, their unheard feelings get ignited and they respond from their own sense of hurt. It can be helpful just to listen to them, to accept that their reaction has nothing to do with you and your parenting, but is about their own history.

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Motherhood is a journey with highs so high so you'll remember them forever, and lows so low you'll curse the day away. I'm still navigating these uncharted waters and just when I feel like the sea has steadied, the water turns choppy again.

My days are filled with uncertainty as we discover more about what's beneath this sweet boy of mine. I know he is smart, strong, passionately curious, compassionate and spirited. What I'm still learning, though, are the differences that make him unique. It's difficult to describe what it's like to be a parent of a spirited child. The answer depends on the day, the task, the weather—the answer is always changing.

Our days ebb and flow, like waves of the ocean. They swell with enjoyment and eagerness and then naturally fade through periodic episodes of misunderstanding and confusion. Attachment and connection, followed by detachment and disconnection. Up and down, back and forth, give and take, push and pull.

My strong-willed child keeps me on my toes, but when I'm able to lift the hood, I can really see what's going on in with his engine. His spirited nature has brought brightness to my life. He is a child of high standards, but is an absolute delight. He is sweet and generous, creative and bright.

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Here are the joys I've learned from parenting a spirited child:

1. His curiosity is a good thing and it reminds me to slow down.

He's always interested in how things work and asks a lot of questions—oftentimes, he tries to figure it out on his own. His senses are keen, and his observations are imaginative and rich. Our five-minute walk to school quickly stretches to 15.

On our way, he'll notice the grasshopper sitting alone on a single branch and the intricate spiderweb laced in the bush nearby. He notices the beautiful colors of the flowers and the leaves changing in the fall.

He'll look up at the sky and see a heart-shaped cloud and hear the distant sound of a siren. He'll notice when one of my shirt buttons is unbuttoned and the single strand of hair on my sleeve. His mind never stops because he is always seeking out knowledge and gathering the data in his mind.

2. His compassion for others and empathy for his friends is admirable.

When he feels, he feels hard. When he expresses love for his baby brother, I'll catch him gently patting his back and giving him a soft embrace, followed up with a kiss and a whisper saying, "I love you."

He once saw his friend fall off her tricycle on the playground and quickly jumped off his and rushed over to make sure she was okay. Every ounce of his body and soul is poured out in those moments. The intense, passionate emotions add depth to my life and make me want to be a better person.

3. He never gives up.

He is determined, tenacious, and will not take "no" for an answer. And if we do say "no," he'll find another way to get a "yes." He's not intimidated by adults or peers and is confident in who he is and what he can do.

At soccer practice, he is the first in line to practice short drills and will run himself ragged until he scores a goal. During our morning school routine, he is the master of negotiation and can somehow convince me he's too full to eat the banana on his plate but not too full to finish off the glass of orange juice.

He is strong-willed and headstrong, qualities I know will serve him well in the future. He wants to learn on his own and test his own limits.

Parenting a spirited child is hard, but it's also rewarding. While it may be a frustrating and exhausting endeavor, I take comfort in knowing that he will grow up to be a leader.

He will be resilient and passionate, focused and unafraid to speak his mind. I don't want him to blend, I want him to shine. I want him to march through life, and not just add to the noise. I want him to love his spirit always, in all ways.

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